Today, a late-night
flash of genius alters American life. The University of Houston's
College of Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
never drove a car. Before I was old enough to be sent out on my
bike, she would call up Ramaley's grocery store. She'd phone in
her order, negotiating the freshness of tomatoes and cuts of meat.
Ramaley's delivered to the door.
drove in the 1930s. Calling in orders was a major function of
the new telephones. Now that's all changed: At supermarkets we
buy more food, pharmaceuticals and dry goods than our arms can
hold. Cars and large electric refrigerators have increased the
size of shopping trips. But they couldn't've done it
alone without a third invention -- without the shopping cart.
writes about Sylvan Goldman, born in 1898. Goldman's father, a
Jewish immigrant from Latvia, was a Sooner. He made the famous
run into the new Oklahoma Territory. Goldman grew up there and
went into wholesale produce with his brother. Oklahoma oil prices
plunged in 1921. That wiped them out, so they went to California
to study new methods for retailing groceries. They came back and
set up a chain of self-service stores equipped with woven baskets
customers could carry while they shopped.
It was a huge
success. They finally sold out to the Safeway chain. This time,
the Depression wiped out their Safeway stock. But "the wonderful
thing about food is that everyone uses it -- and uses it only
once." The Goldmans dove back in. By the mid-'30s they owned
half of the Standard/Piggly-Wiggly chain.
in 1936, Goldman sat in his office wondering how customers might
move more groceries. He stared idly at a wooden folding
chair. Put a basket on the seat, wheels on the legs. . . Wait
a minute. Why not two baskets, one above the other?
a mechanic, Fred Young, began tinkering. Their first shopping
cart was a metal frame that held two wire baskets. Since
you have to be able to store shopping carts, the frames were designed
to be folded and the baskets nested.
the Folding Carrier Co. By 1940 shopping carts had found
so firm a place in American life as to grace the cover of the
Saturday Evening Post. Supermarkets were redesigned to accommodate
them. Checkout counter design and the layout of aisles changed.
Baby seats were added. Finally, in 1947, the folding cart gave
way to the solid nesting carts we use today.
By 1940 I
was pushing a cart through the A & P supermarket across the
street from Ramaley's. Ramaley's survived -- first as an upscale
fine-foods deli, now as a liquor store. And, when I try to remember
childhood, I have to erase shopping carts from the image. By now
that's hard to do. Shopping carts are so carved into our thinking
-- it's hard to remember a life without them.